The best advice for riding a motorcycle is to always stick to a speed that allows you to stop in the distance you can see to be clear. On the road, if you go hammering around a bend to find mud, a tractor, or anything else, you’re going to come unstuck.
But what if things change? What if an animal runs out or you’ve simply missed something… how hard can you brake in a corner before the front wheel washes out and you crash?
There are two answers to this question… if you grab the front brake, then barely at all.
But if you’re smooth and progressive with the front lever, it gives the tyre a chance to increase its contact patch as the weight of the bike moves forward, allowing the tyre to bite into the tarmac. This won’t help on bad surfaces like mud, ice or manhole covers, but being progressive allows you to brake very hard. Don’t surprise the tyre.
I’ll say it again; you can only use the front brake in a corner if you’re careful – when the front lets go, there’s rarely anything you can do about it as the wheel will fold under the bike and you’ll be down in a heartbeat.
The best bet is to practice on a dirt bike off-road. The BMW Off Road Skills course is one place that you can really get a feel for what’s happening (and it’s also where our video’s star Chris Northover teaches).
Yes, you can – many riders will use the back brake just to reduce speed a little where necessary and keep the bike settled – it won’t significantly affect the geometry of the motorcycle, so it’s a very handy tool.
The back brake doesn’t have anywhere near the power of the front – partly because it’s a lot smaller, and usually has fewer pistons – but mainly because there’s no point in it being strong. Under braking, the weight of a vehicle shifts towards the front, so the more powerful brakes are used there to take advantage of the fact (it’s no coincidence that many cars have discs on the front and drums on the rear).
With the throttle held steady, the back brake will struggle to lock the wheel, but do still be careful – you don’t want to lock the rear in a corner and swing the back out. If it keeps going, you’ll be off, while if you let go and the wheel grabs, the rear shock can compress then let go, firing you off in a high-side.